An employee who threatened and threw a senior engineer into a swimming pool, and fought with his supervisor at his employer’s Christmas party has failed in his unfair dismissal application.
The employee, a project Co-Ordinator, had been employed by Future Engineering and Communication (FEC) since 2008. At the Christmas party held at FECs premises on 19 December 2015, FEC provided alcohol as well as food and soft drink but did not place any controls on the amount of alcohol individuals chose to consume.
The Fair Work Commission was satisfied that the employee was inebriated and acted aggressively, both verbally and physically, towards the engineer. He pushed the engineer several times in the chest, verbally harangued him and finally threw him fully clothed into the swimming pool. After the incident, the employee’s supervisor told him to go home. The two got into an argument that resulted in the employee pushing his supervisor with such force that he fell backwards,and then exchanging blows with the supervisor. The Fair Work Commission was satisfied that the supervisor was acting in self defence.
The Fair Work Commission relied on three valid reasons for the employee’s dismissal being the altercations with the engineer and the supervisor, and the refusal of a lawful and reasonable instruction to go home. In considering whether in all the circumstances, the employee’s dismissal was harsh unjust or unreasonable, the Fair Work Commission accepted that in the past the employee had acted in a verbally aggressive manner towards work colleagues. His behaviour on the night of 19 December was not viewed as being out of character. In conclusion the Commission observed “Whilst in some circumstances an employer that provides alcohol at a work function and takes no steps to ensure it is consumed responsibly may be culpable for events attributable to the consumption of alcohol, such as a drunken employee falling down stairs, employees who drink will also be held responsible for their own actions. The fact that someone has been drinking when they behave badly may in part explain their actions but it should not be accepted as an excuse for that misbehaviour. How much alcohol someone drinks is a choice they make and with that choice comes consequences. Society no longer readily accepts alcohol consumption as an excuse for bad behaviour and certainly not for physical violence.”
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